If all goes well, there will be more than just this post. I’m planning a series discussing Fascism, the origins of the modern American state, and the reality of whether a fascist, authoritarian government, similar to Fascist Italy or Nazi Germany, could happen here. There are a lot of reasons for this series, but the most recent catalyst is this a comment. There are several things in the comment that demonstrate the commenter’s misunderstanding of what fascism is and what happened in this country during the New Deal. For example:
smedley butler and fdr stood up to the facists in the 1930s and 1940s.
Technically our commenter is correct, FDR stood up to Adolf Hitler, the Nazi’s and Germany’s quest to dominate Europe during WWII. However, given the context of the post he is responding to, he is definitely offbase. Here is the specific point that it appears he is responding to:
Even if he [ed: Ron Paul] is unsuccessful at forcing a brokered convention, his candidacy has inoculated a significant part of the U.S. electorate against making the same mistake our grandparents made in the late 1920’s and 1930’s when they embraced the fascism of Hoover and FDR, plunging the U.S. into a depression that lasted well into 1947.
Tarran, the author, is not discussing whether FDR confronted the Nazi’s (and the Japanese militarists and Italian Fascists) directly during WWII. Instead, he is discussing the political underpinnings of the New Deal itself, and FDR’s political beliefs. This is a fairly common mistake. People believe that, because they fought the Fascists in WWII, FDR and Churchill were not Fascists. It does not logically follow that FDR and Churchill were not fascist simply because they fought Hitler and Mussolini. Prior to late 1938 Italy and Germany were opposed to each other and, at least to some degree, Mussolini had sided with France and England as recently as 1936. During the Anschluss of Austria there was a quite real likelihood of Italy intervening militarily against Germany. Yet no one would claim that Mussolini was not a fascist. We cannot determine if FDR and the New Deal were fascist from a military conflict. Instead, we will have to look at the actions and characteristics of the man and the policies.
Another key fallacy is brought out in our commenter’s post:
over the past 75 years the social safety net has saved lives whereas the free market—the playground of both the facists AND the libertarians—has dictated the destruction of anyone and any thing that stands in the way of material profit.
It is an incredibly common belief that Fascists (to include Nazi’s, generally) believe in the free market and capitalism and that they are part of the right wing of politics. A cursory examination of the writings, speeches and actions of Hitler, Mussolini and Tojo reveals this to be completely untrue. Understanding where Fascism and National Socialism fits on the political spectrum requires a bit deeper digging, all the way back to the Second International, the Zimmerwald Conference and an understanding of what constitutes the revolutionary left and reformist right of socialism. When a Communist refers to a National Socialist as “right wing”, he actually is referring to his position within the socialist framework. It is (and has long been) a vast misunderstanding of socialism to conflate National Socialism and Fascism (both socialist movements) with right wing conservatives, descendants of England’s Burkean Whigs.
It has been necessary to create a new method of understanding political orientation in order to undo the damage that this confusion has caused. One such system was created by Jerry Pournelle, known as The Pournelle Political Axes. Another one is explained by Liberty Papers founder, Eric, in his post A Better Political Spectrum. In either of these logical and well structured approaches to understanding politics we can see that National Socialists and Fascists are clearly not in the same portion of the political spectrum as libertarians and conservatives.
So, with this ground work established, let’s start with a common understanding of what Fascism and National Socialism are and how they relate to free market capitalism. First, some reference material and excerpts from them:
1. Mussolini defines Fascism
The foundation of Fascism is the conception of the State, its character, its duty, and its aim. Fascism conceives of the State as an absolute, in comparison with which all individuals or groups are relative, only to be conceived of in their relation to the State.
2. From Wikipedia’s entry on Fascism
Stanley Payne’s Fascism: Comparison and Definition (1980) uses a lengthy itemized list of characteristics to identify fascism, including the creation of an authoritarian state; a regulated, state-integrated economic sector; fascist symbolism; anti-liberalism; anti-communism; anti-conservatism. He argues that common aim of all fascist movements was elimination of the autonomy or, in same cases, the existence of large-scale capitalism.
3. Ludwig von Mises Socialism argues that Fascism is an inevitable evolution of Socialism. He says in the preface to the second edition:
Neither is there any substantial difference between the intentions of the self-styled ‘progressives’ and those of the Italian Fascists and the German Nazis. The Fascists and the Nazis were no less eager to establish all-round regimentation of all economic activities than those governments and parties which flamboyantly advertise their anti-Fascist tenets.
4. Dr. Lawrence Britt wrote an article which appeared in the Spring 2003 edition of Free Inquiry, page 20, and was called “Fascism Anyone?”. The article is reposted here. In that article he includes 14 defining characteristics of fascism, which I’m going to list here:
- Powerful and continuing expressions of nationalism.
- Disdain for the importance of human rights.
- Identification of enemies/scapegoats as a unifying cause.
- The supremacy of the military/avid militarism.
- Rampant sexism.
- A controlled mass media.
- Obsession with national security.
- Religion and ruling elite tied together.
- Power of corporations protected. [note: this only applies to corporations that support the fascist government]
- Power of labor suppressed or eliminated.
- Disdain and suppression of intellectuals and the arts.
- Obsession with crime and punishment.
- Rampant cronyism and corruption.
- Fraudulent elections.
While I do not fully agree with Britt, this list of characteristics is going to be interesting when we start digging into the New Deal and FDR as the series progresses. In any case, he is describing characteristics and behaviors of a fascist government rather than the ideals, principles and philosophies they espouse. Reading Hitler and Mussolini is quite enlightening. We quickly discover that they do not believe in the free market, economic freedom or the independence of corporations from government regulation. If we remove their anti-communist rhetoric and listen to how they want to organize society it becomes remarkably clear that they are socialists with a strong nationalist and militarist bent. What is truly interesting is that this is rarely, if ever, made clear in political science courses, the media or any other common forum for discussing politics.
Given this, how does National Socialism and Fascism relate to Capitalism? Capitalism is a method of organizing economic life that calls for the state to not be involved in regulating the economic marketplace (among other things). Fascism does not allow for individual choice independent of the State. Capitalism cannot work if the individual is not free to choose within the marketplace. Fascism and Capitalism cannot co-exist. In fact, Capitalism is only possible within a Liberal society (not liberal in the sense that the political parties in the USA currently use the word, however, where it is roughly equal to progressive or democratic socialism).
In Part II we’ll start tackling the foundations of FDR’s politics and the New Deal.